Narrow Israeli vote means Arab Islamist could choose next prime minister –

Narrow Israeli vote means Arab Islamist could choose next prime minister

JERUSALEM (AP) – After tight elections, an Arab Islamist could choose Israel’s next prime minister.

You read it correctly.

Tuesday’s elections have left a very narrow margin between a right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a diverse range of parties bent on overthrowing him.

To prevail, each side may need the support of an Arab Islamist party that appears to have won only five seats in the 120-member Knesset, but is not committed to any of them, according to the near-final results.

That means the United Arab List, known by the Hebrew name Ra’am, could decide whether Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, remains in office.

It’s an odd situation for Netanyahu, who came to power by rejecting compromise with the Palestinians and has used racist rhetoric in past campaigns to portray the country’s Arab minority as a fifth column of terrorist sympathizers.

This time, however, in Israel’s fourth election in two years, Netanyahu sought Arab support in what many saw as a two-front strategy. with the aim of collecting votes and dividing the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties that won a record 15 seats in elections last year.

If so, he succeeded and convinced Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List, to draw up a separate list.. Now Abbas seems to have the keys to the kingdom.

Israelis vote for party lists rather than individual candidates, and seats are distributed based on the percentage of votes received. No party has ever won a majority of 61 seats, so the largest parties must form governing coalitions, often with fringe parties.

With about 88% of the votes counted, Netanyahu and his natural allies, and the bloc that opposes him, lack a 61-seat majority in the Knesset.

Unless another party decides to switch sides, each would need Abbas’s support to form a government and avoid another round of elections.

Unlike other Arab leaders, Abbas has not ruled out working with the Likud or other right-wing parties if it can secure gains for the Arab community, which faces widespread discrimination, growing poverty amid the coronavirus pandemic and a crime wave. violent

The Arab parties have never applied to serve in an Israeli government nor have they been invited to do so. Abbas could break with that tradition, potentially requesting a Cabinet position in exchange for his support. Most likely, he would not hold an official position, but would support the coalition from outside the government in exchange for increased public investment in housing, infrastructure and law enforcement in Arab communities.

In an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday, Abbas reiterated that he did not rule out joining either side and hinted at bolder ambitions. “We want to use not only parliamentary tools, but also Cabinet tools to achieve things for the benefit of Arab society,” he said.

That can be difficult to achieve. Netanyahu’s coalition would also have to include the Religious Zionist Party, whose main candidates are openly racist.. The differences between Abbas and the far-right group would be difficult to bridge.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Abbas said that the religious Zionists “were not the leadership” to resolve the political standoff.

There is also the possibility that Naftali Bennett, a noncommittal right-wing leader, will support the anti-Netanyahu bloc. In that case, it could bypass the UAL if it maintains the support of the larger Arab Joint List. Netanyahu could also form a coalition without the LAU if he convinces members of the other bloc to defect.

Abbas comes from the Islamic Movement, which was established in 1971 along the lines of the pan-Arab group of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its main objective is the Islamization of Arab society, which it pursues through religious outreach and a vast network of charities.

The group split into two branches in 1996 over the question of whether to participate in politics.

The more radical northern branch, led by cleric Raed Salah, rejects involvement in Israeli politics and has been accused of having close ties to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that also grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood. Salah has been arrested several times and is currently in jail. after being convicted of incitement to terrorism. Israel outlawed his group in 2015, accusing it of inciting violence.

The southern branch, to which Abbas belongs, has taken a conciliatory stance towards Israel and focuses more on socio-economic issues than the conflict with the Palestinians. He has allied himself with secular and left-wing Arab parties in past elections, but has broken with them on issues related to his religious conservatism, such as support for LGBTQ rights.

Arabs make up about 20% of Israel’s population of 9.3 million. They have citizenship, speak fluent Hebrew, and are well represented in the medical profession and in universities.

But they face widespread discrimination in housing and public services. In recent years, they have held regular protests condemning violent crimes and accusing the Israeli authorities of not doing enough to protect their communities., allegations rejected by the police.

Arab citizens of Israel have close family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and largely identify with the Palestinian cause. That has led many Israeli Jews to view them with suspicion, something Netanyahu and other right-wing leaders have capitalized on in previous elections.

Before the 2015 elections, Netanyahu drew criticism after warning his supporters that Arabs were voting “en masse.” In 2019, he lobbied for observers and cameras to be placed in polling stations in Arab areas, which critics say was an attempt to intimidate voters.

It remains to be seen if those comments will come back to haunt him.

Another victory would extend his 12 years in power, already the longest in Israel’s history. Defeat would likely spell the end of his political career and leave him increasingly vulnerable to prosecution and potentially jail as his trial on corruption charges progresses. Or the country could plunge into another election campaign, prolonging two years of stalemate.

Abbas could decide which path awaits him.


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